Former British and European champion talks world title attempts, the fight that got away and how he hopes to forge future world champions at Murray Machines Gym
Tough, tireless and determined. Three adjectives that have been frequently used when describing the robust fighting style of Manchester’s former British and European lightweight champion John Murray. However, after just a few moments in his company, it started to become clear that, far from just words, they are core values that have extended way beyond his professional boxing career and are the epitome of his work ethos.
If any evidence was needed to substantiate that claim, then the fact that upon meeting me, John was hurriedly trying to consume some lunch having already completed a morning gym session and then going to deliver a one to one boxing session after the interview, should just about suffice.
John Murray was a boxer who had a stellar career that saw him gain prestigious titles such as the WBC youth world title, the British title and become European champion, with only three defeats to Kevin Mitchell, Brandon Rios, and fellow Mancunian Anthony Crolla. Following retirement, the man nicknamed ‘The Machine’ opened Murray Machines Gym in Reddish, Stockport but he explains it was far from a conventional transition from boxer to trainer.
“It was always a worry, I remember being about 21, I always thought I’ve not got any sort of back-up career, back-up plan. I didn’t even plan to be a trainer after I finished boxing”.
“I had two years without making any money, so I had to start doing something to get the pennies in”
In an ironic turn of events, a disastrous medical examination, which prevented Murray from fighting, proved to be the catalyst for the beginning of his new training career. Whilst preparing to face Gavin Rees, he failed a brain scan, which in addition to time out taken following defeat to Brandon Rios, meant he had a two-year period of inactivity.
“It’s something I fell into by mistake more than anything. I had 2 years without making any money, so I had to start doing something to get the pennies in.
When I got my license back to start fighting again, I carried on doing the training, that was the natural progression for me”.
Murray was a fighter who never gave anybody an easy night’s work in the ring. If you have beaten John Murray, then the odds are that it was one of your toughest fights. That proved to be the case with Brandon Rios, an opportunity to win that elusive world title, the WBA belt was only able to be won by Murray after Rios came in over the lightweight limit. Typically, Murray wasn’t affected, at least during the weigh-in anyway. “It didn’t bother me, nothing phased me.
He’s got two arms, two legs and so have I. I looked at him on the scales, he looked dead. Then on the night of the fight, I stood across the ring and I looked and thought that’s not the same guy. I was quite a big lightweight and he was over a stone heavier than me.”
It’s a fight that, despite the disadvantages he suffered, he still watches it back to this day, with the hope of a different outcome. “Every single time I watch that fight back I’m convinced I’m going to win.”
“I was mad up for it, I kept trying to push for the fight, I wanted the fight, the fans wanted the fight...”
With all the talk of what might have happened, I took the opportunity to pose the question of the fight that got away during his career. Whilst holding the British and European titles, Murray found himself being constantly linked with another exciting boxer from the north west, a certain Amir Khan. Asked whether he wanted the fight at that time, he rambunctiously declared “I was mad up for it, I kept trying to push for the fight, I wanted the fight, the fans wanted the fight but Khan didn’t want the fight, his management team didn’t want the fight.
He’d been clipped and knocked down off people. Willie Limond couldn’t crack an egg and he put him on his a*se. Khan was fragile and I was a bull at the time, I’d have gone through anything he had. I’d have hurt him; I’d have dragged him into a brawl and ripped him apart. At that time, I was too vicious.”
For one reason or another, the fight didn’t happen and was consigned to the ‘fights that should have happened’ pile and Murray was left to carve his own unique career path.
Around six years on from the beginning of Murray’s new role as trainer, and he has managed to develop his ‘Murray Machines’ brand and has even held his own amateur boxing event. Although passionate, the earlier free-flowing repartee was substituted for a more pensive, considered tone when the discussion turned to the emotional responsibility attached to guiding youngsters through the pitfalls of boxing.
A boxer to a certain extent can be selfish and is often consumed by their own fight. It’s to be expected after all nobody else is going to step through the ropes and fight for you, but in many respects a trainer, a manager has so much more to contend with. A sentiment not lost on the man once nicknamed ‘The Machine’.
“I had 2 kids who boxed on my own show last week, I took them out a week earlier for their first fights and both of them got beat and I felt riddled with guilt, obviously you’ve got to face parents and they want their kids to win, it just wasn’t a nice feeling but then a week later on my own boxing show, we got them both a fight and they both ended up winning.
They were both in tough fights and they both came through and showed guts and watching them get their hand raised, it brought a tear to my eye”.
We all know that as a boxer Murray would storm out of his corner, put his head on your chest, sit in the pocket and unleash hook after hook until the opponent’s will relented but this shows another facet to Murray’s character and the fact that he shows such compassion and care regarding his fighters is testament to the type of trainer he is. He’s everything you would want in a trainer, the bullish drive and the single-minded mindset needed to succeed, coupled with the nurturing quality that enables him to feel close enough to live every moment and feel every punch but also share the elation when their hand is raised in victory.
I sense that the overriding sentiment from Murray is that, regardless of how long the journey takes, it’s about doing it properly and his view is that the process will be all the sweeter if that journey of the boxer is conducted from the beginning, as an amateur.
“I don’t think it would’ve been perfect or ideal for me to have gone straight to a fighter, training him for world titles, you have to have the small hall shows and learn your trade.
Ideally what I’d like to do is train my amateurs, get them through nationals, turn them over, manage them and take the full journey”.
The former lightweight champion, a modest character, for the most part, has an incredible amount of belief in his own credentials and unequivocally reiterated his desire to succeed as a trainer, just as he did as a professional.
“I knew how my career was going to work out and having that single-mindfulness helps.
A lot of people who are successful have that self-belief, it’s like now, I don’t know when it’s going to be but I just know already that at some point, I will be a big name on the training scene as well, I don’t doubt it for one second.
I’m the master of my own destiny, I’ve got a formula that works, and I know how to win fights”.
With this amount of desire and commitment, coupled of course with his unmistakable talent and infectious will, few would bet against it and more importantly few would deny one of the good guys of the sport his moment as a trainer.